Academic journal article The International Journal of African Historical Studies

Enslaving Spirits: The Portuguese-Brazilian Alcohol Trade at Luanda and Its Hinterland, 1500-1830

Academic journal article The International Journal of African Historical Studies

Enslaving Spirits: The Portuguese-Brazilian Alcohol Trade at Luanda and Its Hinterland, 1500-1830

Article excerpt

Enslaving Spirits: The Portuguese-Brazilian Alcohol Trade at Luanda and Its Hinterland, 1500-1830. By José C. Curto. Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2004. Pp. xi, 252; 25 graphs; 11 maps and illustrations. $93.00/euro 74.00 cloth.

In seven heavily documented chapters supported with a good number of graphs, several maps, and illustrations, José Curto investigates how the Portuguese/Brazilian alcohol trade developed in Luanda and its hinterland from 1550 to 1830. The author's purpose is to provide a corrective to the study of commodity trade in Africa by applying to this study the sophisticated rigor that scholars have brought to the study of kola, maize, and salt in other regions of Africa.

The bulk of the book is taken up with providing descriptive and statistical evidence that demonstrates how Portuguese wine and brandy and Brazilian rum came to dominate the alcohol market in Luanda and its hinterland. Curto begins the study with a short but promising overview of central African drinking habits prior to the rise of imported intoxicants. The author notes that although Africans produced alcoholic beverages from local palms and grains, the alcoholic content of these beverages was relatively low; as a result, drunkenness was rare among central Africans.

Curto spends the next six chapters on a minute reconstruction of the Portuguese wine trade and the trade in Brazilian cachaça (sugarcane brandy, called geribita in Angola) trade. The author surveys every aspect of the trade, noting that by the late fifteenth century wine had become a major item of diplomacy with African rulers such as the mani Kongo. With the growing realization that wine, and the more potent Brazilian alcoholic beverages were prized imports, Portuguese and Brazilian merchants moved to create a demand for these imported alcohols by making them essential exchange items in the Atlantic slave trade. …

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